Understanding radiation risks in Japan

By John Timmer

Coverage of the recent problems with Japanese nuclear reactors has increased public awareness of radioactive isotopes of cesium, iodine, and uranium, but it hasn’t helped people understand what makes a given isotope dangerous. It’s no surprise, really; the threat posed by a particular isotope depends on a combination of factors, including its half-life, mode of decay, and what happens to the isotope once it gets inside the body. We’ll look at each of these issues separately to help clear up some of the confusion.

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